I scheduled this post on my calendar the week that I brought home water kefir grains. I imagined that I would be posting a beautiful tutorial about how to start your own water kefir and you all would be so impressed with my oh-so-healthy hippy mama-ness and my excellent flavor combinations and pretty bottles all lined up in a row.
And then reality intervened. I’m 3 weeks into this project and I don’t actually have one successful batch of brewed water kefir to show you.
Let me back up. It all started with an article I wrote back in June about canning and preserving that will be published next month. A couple of the people I interviewed talked about fermenting various things, like pickles, cabbage, milk, and water. Water? In my general research, I kept coming across water kefir, which I hadn’t heard of before. Suddenly I’m running across water kefir everywhere, just like suddenly I started seeing babies everywhere the week after I got two lines on the pee stick.
Like milk kefir, which I’m familiar with from my childhood, water kefir is fermented with starter bacteria, in the form of grains or crystals. You start with sugar water and after the little bacterias are finished eating the sugar, the remaining liquid is light and slightly fizzy, filled with healthy probiotics, and not very sweet. A lot of people drink it as an alternative to soda. We don’t drink soda anyway, but I tried some lemon-ginger kefir water that I found at my local health-food store and really liked it. I’m aware of how good probiotics are for the body but I don’t really like kombucha and milk kefir is just too rich for me to drink regularly. But at $3.50 a bottle on sale, drinking purchased water kefir was not going to be sustainable habit either.
How hard could this be to make myself, right? It is just fermented water. I live in Santa Cruz and almost everyone I know has something or other fermenting on their kitchen counter. On purpose, even!
I found some dehydrated grains and followed the instructions to rehydrate them. I searched through a few blogs and found a straightforward recipe for a first and second ferment cycle that looked like it would produce something very similar to what I had been buying. I filled up my special half-gallon Ball jar with sugar water, poured in my little grains (I can’t help but imagine them with smiling little faces after all the time I have recently spent researching on this web page) and sat back to wait.
After one 48-hour cycle nothing much had happened, but I had read it might take a couple of cycles for dehydrated grains to really “wake up,” so I poured out that batch and put the grains in fresh sugar water. This batch I let go a little too long and it started to smell bad. So that one got poured out, too. The third batch seemed ok. It smelled slightly yeasty, which I had read was expected, and it tasted ok. But no fizz. I strained out the grains and moved them to a new jar of sugar water and started a second ferment cycle by adding a bit of juice to the kefired water and putting them into sealed bottles. Two days later and still no fizz. And the water seemed thicker than I remembered the stuff from the store being. The consistency was kind of like maple syrup. It didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t really taste good, either. But I blamed the juice, which I didn’t even really like plain. I threw out that batch, too.
I persevered. Every two days last week I started a fresh batch of sugar water and moved the grains to it. I bottled up the finished water for a second ferment cycle, then moved the bottles into the fridge after another 48 hours of brewing. I did start getting a bit of bubble in the second cycle, but the water was still thick and just not what I was expecting. And my grains were not multiplying. Every resource I’d seen indicated an indicator of a healthy colony is that the grains multiply like crazy
Finally, last night, I decided that I was doing something wrong. I poured all of my syrupy not-water-kefir down the sink and turned to Google for some deeper research.
The problem with using the internet for research is that there is just so much information out there. I found many more recipes that differed in slight, but possibly important ways from the one I had started with. One said you should never use filtered water but instead use tap water and boil it first if your city uses chlorine. Another said always use filtered water because tap water contains chemicals that are bad for the grains and they can't be boiled out. One said always rinse the kefir grains between batches, another said never rinse them. One said never use refined white sugar to make the sugar water and another said that white sugar is the best “resting” sugar and you should use it every 3-5 cycles to let your grains regenerate. Some said the initial ferment should be in an open container and other said it should be tightly lidded. Some recipes said that you must use a quarter of a lemon and a handful of raisins in the initial ferment and others said that you shouldn’t put anything other than sugar in that ferment and that all flavorings should be added to the second ferment cycle. One resource seemed to indicate that the thick water was a result of too many minerals in the source water and another said to add a scoured eggshell to the batch (a common source of minerals) if the kefir was coming out thick.
So now I’m overwhelmed with information but still don’t have a solution. This morning I started a new batch with half sugar and half maple syrup in the same kind of water I had been using before and rinsed the grains really well in clear water before transferring them. I’m going to cycle the batch every 24 hours for three days and then try another 48-hour ferment with filtered water and a quarter of a lemon to see what happens. If that doesn’t work I’ll try without the lemon but with eggshell or mineral drops.
And if that doesn’t work, I’m going to chuck these grains and start over again with a fresh batch.
All I can say is that right now I’m feeling like a bit of a failure as a fermenter!
Have you made water kefir? Do you have any advice for me?
Last night I sat at the kitchen table and worked my way through my mending basket. First the bra that had an escaping wire got a patch. Then I modified another bra to add nursing clips (and yay! I have bras that fit again!). I patched a hole in a pair of my man’s favorite pants so his underwear don’t show at the office and hemmed a pair of PJ pants that were about a foot too long for me.
Then the hand mending: A button missing from my flannel pajama top and a stuffed chipmunk belonging to Bean that was losing her plastic glasses. Since Bean started wearing glasses last spring I have brought home a small family of stuffed animals who wear glasses, so she can see herself in her surroundings. We have a Magenta dog, a Hello Kitty wearing big Buddy Holly frames, and this girl chipmunk who sports some hip purple specs. Specs that were, unfortunately, not sewn well enough to withstand a toddler’s curious fingers. They came loose within a few days and I tossed the doll into the mending basket to deal with later.
Later became much later, as happens with the mending pile. My basket has been living on my man’s dresser, which happens to be right next to our bedroom door. Each time I go in or out of the bedroom, I walk past it. And if The Bean is in my arms it is right at eye level. “Oh, no!” she exclaims, each time she sees her chipmunk with her loose glasses. I tried to bury her better in the folds of the flannel pajamas, but one foot still showed and Bean’s “Oh, no!” reminded me day after day of my procrastination.
So last night after she was asleep I committed myself to fixing stuff.
As I sat stitching loops around the plastic frame, connecting them back to the chipmunks ears and cheek, I felt a wave of anxiety and sadness wash over me. I was a little girl again. I woke up and came out of my room and saw my favorite doll on the couch. But something was wrong with her. Her long ears were missing! Where did her ears go? My mom had cut them off, following the logic of some conversation I didn’t remember having with her. She thought she was doing what I had requested, but I was devastated that my doll had been injured at my mother’s hand.
I remember the heaviness of grief in my chest, maybe for the first time in my young life. I was inconsolable. I remember holding her and crying. I was still at the age when I believed my toys were alive, had feelings and souls. Something had happened to her when she was out of my protection and it was awful. I had not been there to protect her. I let her down. I wanted her back the way she was before and also I understood that could never happen. I was angry at my mother but also I felt guilty. Somehow the misunderstanding felt like my fault. I had done something that had lead to this grievous injury to my very favorite creature. I didn’t know how to apologize or to fix it.
Even now, 35 or more years later, I feel sadness at this memory.
As I stitched my daughter’s doll, I realized that my procrastination at her repair was based on fear of unintentionally triggering my child’s grief in the same way. It was so unlikely to happen - clearly she was more grieved by the broken glasses than she would be by them repaired - but I was afraid of making a misstep and hurting her. I know how deeply attached young children become with particular toys and it can be so fraught, as a parent, to negotiate through those feelings when communication is still so limited between us.
After I knotted off and trimmed my thread I tucked the chipmunk into the basket on Bean’s changing table, where she would be sure to see her this morning. After we got up today, both of us still in our fuzzy pajamas, I whispered to her, “I have something for you.” She stood up and grabbed my fingers, excited for me to lead her to her surprise. We walked down the hall to her room and I kneeled down next to her and pointed up at the basket. “Look, honey. Mama fixed her.” She dropped my fingers and reached up with both arms, her face open and happy as I watched her anxiously. I lifted down the doll and Bean tucked her in to her chest with one arm, swaying her body and tapping the chipmunk’s head gently in her sweet imitation of the way I snuggle her own small body to my chest in a bear hug.
This time, at least, I feel reassured that I did right by my girl.
When we were at Strawberry Music Festival over Memorial Day, we had the best ice pops I think I've ever tasted. They were cherry-pomegranate flavored, just the right balance of sweet and tart, and the most amazing garnet shade of red.
When we got home I started hunting around for a recipe. I was surprised to only find a couple of versions. One used yogurt and another was pomegranate-raspberry instead of cherry. How is it that so few people have discovered this delicious combination?
Neither was quite was I was looking for, but using the raspberry recipe as my base I started experimenting. I ended up with someting pretty delicious, but still not quite those pops we craved even in the snow. I guess I'll just have to head back to Strawberry for the original version next year!
Here is my version if you want to give them a try. Let me know what you think, and if you try any variations that come out wonderfully!
Cherry-Pomegranate Ice Pops
Note: Every style of pop molds holds a slightly different volume, so I'm writing this recipe in proportions rather than true measurements. Adjust your batch accordingly.
2 parts pomegranate juice
1 part cherry juice
1/2 part fresh or frozen cherries, pitted and chopped
agave syrup or honey to taste
Divide the chopped cherries evenly between your ice pop molds. Mix remaining ingredients together and check to make sure the sweetness is to your taste. Pour the juice mix over the cherries and insert pop sticks into the molds.
The flowers are blooming, the veggies are producing, the bees are buzzing around and we all love being out there. This is the first year in a long time that I've had both the time and energy to put into my garden and it feels so good.
Watching this relationship develop.
Is there anything sweeter than the love between a little girl and her daddy? Watching them together gives me a sweet lump in my throat.
Giving myself permission to slow down.
I was pushing myself really hard toward some sort of vague goals and it just wasn't working for me. A few weeks ago I made a conscious decision to step back, re-evaluate, and slow down a bit for the remainer of the summer. It has given me room to do things that feed me, like read, cook, knit and draw a bit. I feel much more in balance and focused, as well as creative!
My easy-going girl
While I won't say she doesn't EVER throw fits, I realize I'm lucky to live with such an even-tempered toddler. She's delighted by discovery, willing to roll with whatever is going on around her (if she's rested and fed!), generous with love and laughter, and even the occasional bad mood is generally short-lived. Recently she's being enjoying taking showers with me in the morning, reading books together, pushing her baby and Tigger dolls around the house in her shopping cart, "working" in the garden in the afternoon, and snuggling in the rocking chair for nursing and songs before bed.
I am so awed by the process of language acquisition. Just a frew weeks ago she was grunting and pointing, and now there are words. She has been adding a sign or word nearly a day to her repertoire. It is mind-boggling, really. I suddenly have access to what she's thinking about, how she makes connections between ideas, what she desires, what she thinks is funny. While most of her words (and even some of the signs) need Mommy translation to anyone else, she is getting more and more clear every day. Yesterday she said "kitty" with the hard consonants in all the right places and I was blown away. She signs "motorcycle" in the back seat when she hears one growl by on the road, and says, "Dada," when she's thinking about him. She sees animals around us that I miss and tells me about them: "Dog! Kitty!" She asks for water with her hand to her mouth and tells me she's tired by running her hand down her face. I'm even charmed by her "no," which comes out sounding like "neuf" or "oh, nyo!"
With kids returning to school the last couple of weeks I'm seeing a bunch of postsonhomeschooling blogs about how to keep toddlers busy. It makes sense - the big kid and the parent need to do lessons, but what is the little kid supposed to do?
There are no big kids being homeschooled in our home, but this parent still needs chunks of time during the day to do other things. Sometimes just time to make dinner! I noticed recently that I have been turning more and more to iPhone and iApp games to distract The Bean when I needed a few minutes, but I have mixed feelings about doing that. The science on the subject is unclear but what I see happening is that she gets hyper-focused on the screen. She doesn’t respond to my voice or other things going on in the room. The more she uses the device the more she wants it, but the more time she spends playing games the more quickly she loses interest in them. Not that she wants to put the device away, she just wants it to do more, something else, something more interesting. And when it doesn’t she gets very frustrated. This all looks like addictive behavior to me and I don’t want to feed that. It is one thing when I'm sitting right next to her and interacting with her, but when I'm trying to get my hand free this just doesn't feel like the best way to do it.
So I’ve been reading up on toddler busy bags (check out my Pinterest board where I’ve been collecting ideas) and various activities appropriate for a smart and curious 19 month old. I’ve been specifically looking for things that I can make with stuff I already have around the house. I few weeks ago I made an I-spy bottle out of an old water bottle, some rice and some plastic farm animals, which was only semi-successful. She carries it around the house sometimes but hasn’t quite figured out how to manipulate it to see the different animals.
Last night, after she was done with dinner but not ready for bed yet (but mama was!) I pulled a plastic tub out of the recycling and cut a hole in the lid. I got a handful of various-sized puff-balls and showed her how to fit one of them through the hole. That was all she needed!
This simple toy entertained her for more than half an hour - ages longer than any iDevice has kept her attention!
First she put all the little balls into the tub. Then I showed her that the lid came off and she dumped the puffs out and fed them back through the hole again. Then she spent some time figuring out how the lid worked. Then she started sorting the puffs into different parts of her highchair tray. Then she put them all back in the tub by the handful and pouring them out again. Then we talked about what colors the balls were and how some were bigger than others. She selected her favorite - a large purple one - and put the rest back in the tub.
At that point she was finally ready get in pajamas so I put the toy away, but she carried that little purple puff ball all the way to the bedroom and still had it clutched in her fist when I moved her, sound asleep, from my lap to her bed.
Have you found simple ativities like this that your toddlers love? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!
I’ve been reading the blog More With Less and thinking about freedom. The kind of freedom that comes with simplicity, with letting go of things. Physical things, like belongings; financial things, like debt and credit cards; and emotional things, like relationships that are toxic or limiting.
Simplicity, for some people, is relatively easy. I used to work with a guy who sold or gave away nearly everything he owned and moved across the country with only what fit in the back of his pickup truck. After that experience, he just didn't have a desire to collect stuff the way he used to. I have read about people who practice extreme simplicity, such as only owning 100 things, or only what will fit in a backpack.
I admire people who do things like that but I am not one of them. I'm far closer to the other extreme. Not a hoarder, but a collector of stuff. Far more stuff than I knew was useful or than I believed was beautiful (to quote William Morris). I lived alone for several years in a three-bedroom house and every room had stuff in it. The excess of it disgusted me - how could one person need so much stuff? But at that time I just didn't know where to start with it. So many of the things I owned had emotional weight to them. They were given to me by people no longer in my life, or represented a life I wished that I was living or that I had lived before and hadn't quite let go of yet.
I knew letting go would feel freeing, so why did I hold on so tight? My stuff felt like a weight that was leashing me to my past. I was being dragged down by things I no longer wanted. By possessions that carried stories about who I was that were no longer relevant. I was holding on to straggling pieces of lives I was no longer living. Even though I wanted to be free of all that I was also scared to sever the tether. Letting go of who I was without knowing who I was becoming was terrifying.
Having a child was a powerful catalyst in my life. Since The Bean entered the world it has become so much easier to release my old lives. There is now a dividing line between who I was and who I now am. It is easier to visualize what I might find time for in my life, now or in the future, and easier to identify what simply does not fit.
Many of the things that used to feel so heavy with memories have suddenly become just objects with no particular emotional weight. I have given away long lists of things through my local Freecycle list and dropped of several car trunk loads at Goodwill. There are still a few items that I'd really like to let go of but I haven't yet found homes for, but this weekend I said goodbye to something that felt huge.
I sold my motorcycle.
I loved that bike at one time, but I have not ridden it in probably 10 years. It has been sitting in the middle of my garage, taking up a considerable amount of space and slowly leaking fluids and dropping pieces of disintegrating plastic on the floor. I cannot see myself ever wanting to ride a motorcycle again. But it took me years to be willing to let go of the physical proof that once I was someone who rode a motorcycle. Recently I realized that just didn't matter to me any more.
I sold it for a laughably low price to someone who intends to replace the high mileage engine (if I'm calculating the mileage right, I put over 20K miles on that bike!), fix up the body and resell it. I hope he does. It was a really fun ride and it makes me very happy to know that someone else might get a chance to ride it and love it again.